Mental Health Consequences Following Release from Long-Term Solitary Confinement in California: Consultative Report Prepared for the Center for Constitutional Rights:
Human Rights in Trauma Mental Health Lab, Stanford University
Mental Health Consequences Following Release from Long-Term Solitary Confinement in California: Consultative Report Prepared for the Center for Constitutional Rights:
Human Rights in Trauma Mental Health Lab, Stanford University
From: SF Bayview:
STATEMENT OF PRISONER REPRESENTATIVES ON SECOND ANNIVERSARY OF ASHKER V. BROWN SETTLEMENT
Oct 14, 2017 marks the 2 year anniversary of the approval of the Ashker settlement. We celebrate our victory in the Ashker case, in which virtually all of the over 1600 prisoners then languishing in indeterminate SHU were released to General Population. This victory was achieved through 3 hunger strikes and the non-violent legal and political action of thousands of California prisoners, their families, supporters, and their attorneys.
However, unfortunately our general monitoring is due to run out after two years unless the Court grants an extension. We believe that CDCR is still engaged in constitutional violations that deny prisoners due process and seeks to put us back in the hole, for many, indeterminately under the guise of Administrative SHU. Our attorneys will seek an extension of the agreement due to CDCR’s systemic violations of the constitution. We don’t know what the court will do, but we do know that prisoners and their families have to re-energize our human rights movement to fight against the continuing violations of our rights. Examples are:
· CDCR’s continued misuse of Confidential Information to place prisoners back in the SHU, particularly with bogus conspiracy charges;
· The lack of out of cell time, programming and vocational programs in Level 4 prisons. The last letter of CDCR stands for rehabilitation, and there is almost no rehab programs and opportunities in the level 4 prisons. They function like modified SHUs;
· The denial of parole to lifers and Prop 57 prisoners who have clean records simply because of old, unconstitutional gang validations and CDCR’s illegally housing us in SHU for years;
· The turning of the Restrictive Custody General Population Unit which was supposed to be a GP unit where prisoners who had real safety concerns could transition to regular GP, into a purgatory where the only way out is to either debrief or die;
· CDCR promulgation of new regulations which gives the ICC discretion to put people back in the SHU, allows for many prisoners to be placed in the future in indeterminate Administrative SHU, or to be placed in the RCGP on phony safety concerns.
We must stand together, not only for ourselves, but for future generations of prisoners, so that they don’t have to go through the years of torture that we had to. We need all prisoners – young and old -to make our collective outcry public to ensure that the victory that we have won is not reversed by CDCR behind closed doors. Ultimately, we are the ones who are responsible for leading the struggle for justice and fair treatment of prisoners. That is why we entered into the historic Agreement to End Hostilities, and why it is so important that the prisoner class continue to stand by and support that agreement. We cannot allow our victories to be nullified by CDCR’s abuse of power, and may have to commit ourselves to non-violent peaceful struggle if CDCR continues on its present path.
We need everyone- prisoners, their families and the public – to send comments on CDCR’s proposed regulations to email@example.com, send emails and letters urging Gov Brown to sign Assembly Bill 1308, make sure that prisoner complaints about unfair treatment are publicized, and to work together to rebuild our prisoners human rights movement.
We cannot let CDCR increase its use of prolonged solitary confinement either by misusing confidential information to place prisoners in SHU on phony conspiracy charges, or through increasing the use of Administrative SHU. As the Supreme Court stated over one hundred years ago in the 1879 case of Wilkerson v. Utah , it is “safe to affirm that punishment of torture…and all others in the same line of unnecessary cruelty are forbidden by that [the Eighth] Amendment.” The admired historian Howard Zinn noted the application of that decision to the modern SHU: “All we need then, is general recognition that to imprison a person inside a cage, to deprive that person of human companionship, of mother and father and wife and children and friends, to treat that person as a subordinate creature, to subject that person to daily humiliation and reminder of his or her own powerlessness in the face of authority… is indeed torture and thus falls within the decision of the Supreme Court a hundred years ago.”
Sitawa (S/N Ronnie Dewberry), Arturo Castellano, Todd Ashker, George Franco
Via CFASC – https://familyunitynetwork.org/cfasc/
We are within our 5th Year of the August 2012 historical document “AGREEMENT TO END HOSTILITIES.” followed by the PHRM’s third and the largest Hunger Strike within the State of California and equally larger then any Hunger Strike within the United States federal and state prison system, to which there were over 30,000 Prisoners here in California who participated (that is, from Solitary Confinement and the General Population. We (PHRM) have decreased California Prison Melees in half over the past five years with NO assistance by CDCr: SVSP, PBSP, New Folsom, Kern Valley, SATF, Lancaster, Centinela, High Desert, etc. Officials.
These historical acts of courage were led by the four Principal Negotiators Arturo Castellanos, C-17275, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry, C-35671), Todd Ashker, C-58191, and Antonio Guillen, P-81948, along with the Sixteen known Representatives, and along with our Unsung Heroes throughout CDCr.
We Salute Our Fallen Heroes
We shout out to the Families of those who died during the Historical Hunger Strikes (2011-2013), and to the Families who lost Loved Ones during the (AEH) struggle For Equal Justice, “Christian Gomez, Alex Machado, Alonzo Hozel Blanchard, A. “Baby Paya” Morales,
Billy “Guero” Sell, Johnny Owen Vick, and Hugo “Yogi” Pinell.”
“We also want to warn those in the General Population that [CCPOA guards & their Supervisors] will continue to plant undercover Sensitive Needs Yard (SNY) debriefer ‘inmates’ amongat the solid GP prisoners with orders from IGI to be informers, snitches, rats, and obstructionists, in order to attempt to disrupt and undermine our collective groups’ mutual understanding on issues intended for our mutual causes (that is, forcing CDCr to open up all GP main lines, and return to a rehabilitative-type system of meaningful programs/privilages, including lifer conjugal visits, etc. via peaceful protest activity/non-cooperation, e.g., hunger strike, no labor, etc. etc.).
People need to be aware and vigilant to such tactics, and need to refuse to allow such IGI inmate snitches to create chaos end reignite hostilities amongst our racial groups. We can no longer play into IGI, ISU, OCS, and SSU’s old manipulative divide and conquer tactics!!!”
(quoted from AEH, #3)
CDCr Secretary Kernan, Undersecretary Diaz, (DAI) Director Allison, Director Alfaro (of High Security Prisons) and Governor Brown have all been notified or the crisis here at SVSP C-Facility.
The lack of rehabilitative programs (i.e., Vocational Carpentry, etc.) here at SVSP and throughout the system remains dysfunctional.
Those within the PHRM here at SVSP C-Yard, who were released from
Solitary Confinement over the last three years, have created our own Juvenile Divergent Program called “LIFE-C.Y.C.L.E.” (“Careless Youth Corrected by Lifers’ Experiences”), and this program has successfully for the past fifteen months conducted five Seninars, bringing in At-Risk Youth from the local Monterey County to guide them, while mentoring other prisoners. During the Seminars, the Youth share their thoughts and understandings of not wanting to come to prison, and what their goals are, that they will set for themselves to prevent that from happening.
The PHRM prisoners have realized that CDCr has caused harm to them over the past 2, 10, 20, 30-40 years of Solitary Confinenent. We – as Class Members of the PHRM here at SVSP C-Facility realize the negligence and adverse impact of that devastating ordeal coming out here to a partial General Population (G.P.). And we realized once again CDCr failed to acknowledge the harm that they caused to us, therefore, we took it upon ourselves to establish our our supportive MEN’S GROUP in order to cope with the devastating harm that was caused by Solitary Confinement.
The purpose of this MEN’S GROUP is to serve as a diverse multi-cultural support group for both those prisoners in- and being released to the G.P. from Solitary Confinement sucessfully settle-in, be provided access to rehabilitative pre-Parole Board (SR 260/261) Self-Programs, etc., that CDCr/SVSP are mandated to make available for all G.P. prisoners.
The primary purpose of the MEN’S GROUP is for the Participants to mentor and aid one another. Our Group’s vision brings a sense of community, respect and responsibility that springs from the 21st century insight of collective minds who have united in solidarity and have mutually agreed to end hostilities among racial groups. This historic agreement will continue to bring ahout substantive changes to the CDCr system of non-rehabilitation.
On November 3rd, 2015, the PHRM had discussed with Warden Muniz, Chief Deputy Warden Hatton, and Associate Warden Bienkale about the need for this type of Support Group to address the cause and effects of Solitary Confinement upon our re-entry into the G.P. These administrative officials’ response was positive and was witnessed by the outside citizenry activists hosting the event, Mary Lou, Barrio Unidos (Santa Cruz), Actor Danny Glover, and Mr. Kahn, Peace Academy.
We were told to prepare and submit our proposed Self-Help Support Group to AW Bienkale via SVSP’s Community Resource Manager (CRM) Carol Hernandez, which we immediatele completed.
However, since November, 2015 to April, 2017, CDCr-SVSP has continued to not address these serious matters of concern. Although, on the occasions when we speak with Muniz (and Bielkale in Nov., 2016), they are supposedly going to initiate the MEN’S GROUP (according to AW Bienkale). But to date they have failed to approve it, which left hundreds of prisoners suffering from the effects of solitary confinement with no administrative support.
We (PHRM) have been integrated into some of the worst CDCr 180/270-designed prisons in the State, not considering these same men were held illegally in Solitary Confinement up to forty-plus (40+) years and their Humanity is now again being withheld by new Green Walls/Old Culture. Yet, prisoners held at SVSP (facility-C) face the bigotry and prejudice by the Senior Correctional Officers and supported by their Supervisors (eg., Sgts) who allow for all new C/Os to be trained and taught the Old Culture/continual Green Wall.
Scott Kernan, CDCR Secretary, Ralph Diaz, CDCr UnderSecretary, Kathleen Allison, Director of Adult Institutions: Recognize Our Humanity and correct your Staffers’ here at SVS Old Culture Mentality here at SVSP forthwith.
PHRM PRINCIPAL NEGOTIATOR
29 March, 2017 © SNJ
typed by AP on April 16, 2017
Now as to the riot, there were 128 involved, 13 injuries and 7 of those went to the outside hospital. Only 3 of those injuries are Brotha’s. All sides agree on how it happened: a mentally ill Mexican guy walked over to the New Afrikan court and slapped one of the Brotha’s for no reason. The rest was reactive self-defense from all parties involved. We had a meeting (New Afrikan Representatives and Mexican Representatives) and everyone agrees, it’s in no one’s interests to break the ‘Agreement to End Hostilities’ over a nut.
One of the things we explained to the Administration is the last 3 incidents involved severely mentally ill prisoners – I mean straight hearing voices, hallucinating men who need genuine professional, around the clock care. They keep putting them out here and they keep flipping out.
They (Admin.) agreed, but there’s nothing they can do, Sacramento (Classification) says they must also be housed in G.P. [General Population]. But this issue is over and squashed. We have another meeting set up for Tuesday to solidify the peace. Let everyone know everything is alright. All will be well.
Reblogged from Kijana’s site.
From the Prisoners Human Rights Movement: A Case for Releasing Prisoners, i.e. “non-violent” versus “violent” prisoners
By Kijana Tashiri Askari
Since the inception of its birth, the fabric of Amerikkka’s nation has been built upon violent crimes being perpetrated against the people. This truth is currently evident throughout its history: from the imperialist wars of aggression being waged against Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, etc. to European settlers from England coming to the Amerikkkas and forcefully taking the land from the indigenous people through countless acts of genocide-based violence; and in 1619, when western imperialists forcefully kidnapped Afrikans from the mothaland of Afrika via the trans-atlantic slave trade, and brought us to the shores of Amerikkka in chains, to be enslaved as chattel property.
Examples of this truth are endless, especially when you factor in the exception clause of the 13th Amendment to the U.$ Constitution, which legalizes slavery (e.g. “violence”) in…
View original post 575 more words
Upon leaving Pelican Bay SHU Solitary Confinement: My Firsts (of Many 🙂 )
By Brutha Baridi Williamson
Leaving out of Pelican Bay Solitary Confinement Torture Prison-Facilities/Units-Cages for the first time on Jan. 23rd, 2015 (after arriving there Nov. 29, 1990), I remember witnessing my first sunrise as the CDCr [CA Dept. of Corrections and rehabilitation] “gray goose” transportation bus travelled up the mountainside along Highway 101. Staring out the window at the skyline as it transformed into a mixture of blended orange-red-violet-blue colors, I sat there in deep silence just appreciating the beauty of Nature … It would be the first of many first time experiences of using my natural senses again after being buried alive in that concrete box deprived of the natural use of those senses for the last twenty five (25) years . . . a quarter century.
My next First was at the San Quentin Receiving and Release Center where our bus stopped over. And while we was standing in small holding cages waiting to get back on the bus, another of the men (in another cage) asked to use the restroom across the hall. I was surprised when the guard walked over to the cage, unlocked the door, and let the guy walk out and across the hall (around other staff) unhandcuffed! I knew that I had to experience this after years/decades being chained and cuffed (like a 19th century slave). I asked to use the restroom and the guard let me out to walk freely across the hall uncuffed. It was not far, but just the absence of cuffs made a world of difference between being treated like a (chained) animal and feeling Humyn!
My next First may seem small to many outside hearing this, but for me it was special for my humanity. On January 28th, 2015 I arrived at SVSP (Salinas Valley State Prison) general population and was housed with a fellow human being named Malik. He gave me a brand new toothbrush (that he was allowed to purchase from an outside quarterly package vendor.) This was not the 2″ miniature size toothbrush (normally for brushing pet animals’ teeth) I had been using since the 1990s. This was the normal regular-size toothbrush used for brushing humans’ teeth. And each time (twice in the morning, afternoon and evening-night) I use it. The feel of being human is always at the front of my mind. With each stroke of the brush I humbly give in to the use of this part of my deprived senses.
There has been many more Firsts since then over the course of this first year, but the one that is so close and dear to heart was my first visit (contact) with my family in my thirty-plus (30+) years of confinement in CDCr, when I was able to visit my sister Donnita Benson, when she flew out from Oklahoma City and we hugged/kissed for the first time since 1980. It was a memorable experience to go from tears of hurtful pain and suffering (that dates back to our childhood struggles – domestic violence, being separated at ages 10 [me] and 14 [her], as “survivors” -she survived breast cancer and I survived being lost to the street jungles at age 15, then these concrete prison jungles, including decades in solitary confinement) then went to tears of joy, laughter, and happiness as we enjoyed those two days together. She said I squeezed her hand so tight and would not let it go that it went numb … Oops, my bad. I guess I subconsciously was that little child back home walking everywhere holding securely to my older sister’s hand.
I will close this off with a solidarity salute of respect, appreciation, and honor to all of the PHSS-PHRM outside supporters who believe in our cause enough to keep the spotlight upon both this states’ massive dysfunctional system of mass incarceration, its evil solitary confinement torture use, non-rehabilitative and social re-entry parole opportunities, and their contributions for helping those released from long-term solitary confinement and its own unique post-traumatic stress disorder syndrome (PTSD-solitary confinement) identi[ty], cope-heal, etc. from its effects. Thank you/Asante to each and all.
In solidarity with all oppressed peoples struggles, Brutha Baridi
J. Baridi Williamson, D34288
P.O. Box 1050
Soledad, CA 93960-1050
From Center for Constitutional Rights
May 23, 2016
By Todd Ashker
At the beginning of this first meeting, it became clear that there was a misunderstanding about its function. CDCR thought the meeting was for us to listen to them. Why would we put a term into our Settlement that would have us listen to them? We listen to them every second of our lives. We see the purpose of these calls as an opportunity for us to be heard and to have a discussion with people in authority.
Despite this initial confusion, we were able to lead the meeting. CDCR got unfiltered information from prisoners who know what is going on in their prison cells and yards. We are a leadership group the CDCR knows. They know we have integrity. The information we shared at the meeting came not only from the experiences of us four main reps, but also from the other veterans of the SHU, members of our class who have written and met with our attorneys.
We raised in strong terms that some of us who have made it to General Population yards are essentially in modified SHUs (Security Housing Units), in some respects worse than Pelican Bay SHU, although in some respects better. Conditions, policies and practices that we are experiencing in some of the General Population yards are not what we expected when we settled our case. After spending decades in solitary we cannot accept many of these conditions. Too many prisoners are simply warehoused, and there are not enough jobs or programs to give us skills, engage our minds and prepare us to return to our communities. Guards need training in ‘professional’ behavior. Bullying and humiliation should never be tolerated.
CDCR may have been surprised at the tenor, strength and substance of our approach. We expect at the next meeting, we will all understand the agenda and purpose well ahead of time. We also think a longer meeting will allow for a full discussion and useful interaction. We hope CDCR officials come to welcome these historic meetings as useful because they will be if prisoners’ perspectives are heard, used and received by them.
An update now that I’ve transferred to the general population! Please note my new address, although I will likely to moving soon, so I recommend holding any mail until further notice in case it gets lost in the process.
After my CCI counselor read off my whole history to the committee (from my felony arrest to every incident I was involved in through my incarceration), Warden Davey began to explain that after 9 years and 7 months he was releasing me from the SHU and lowering my custody level because I haven’t received any rule violation write-ups for quite some time. Thus I will be transferred to the 270-designated prison that’s closest to my area. He followed that up with the expectations he has of me and the Captain told me to go pack up because I was to be immediately moved to the General Population (GP) yard here at Corcoran, no longer a SHU prisoner.
With that I went back to my cage and packed up all my property and relayed it to the building staff who inventoried it (and surprisingly didn’t take a thing). Soon after they came back to get me, and I said all my goodbye’s to those I built solid friendships with. My property was packed up on a golf cart and we took a ride through a maze of buildings, stopping several times to pass through multiple gates. When we finally made it to my destination (3A GP yard), I was helped off the cart and put up against the wall, my handcuffs were removed and the officer said “you’re free, and I won’t put handcuffs on you unless there’s something wrong. Go ahead and remove your property from the golf cart and put it in a push cart so that you can push it to the building you’re assigned to”.
This was the very first time in 9 years, 7 months that I have ever been next to an officer without handcuffs on, and it really felt weird because both of our psyches had been so scarred with the idea that I would attack him. But my brief apprehension passed, I loaded the hand cart and made my way to 3 building, where I was directed to cell 230 on the upper tier. I unloaded my property and put it in the cell I was assigned and which I will be occupying until I find a permanent home.
Immediately I began to notice all the small things that are now available to me in the SHU, like electric and cable TV plugs, a light switch, a clear, full size mirror where I could see my whole face, a proper shaving razor, boxes of plastic bags, lockers. In the SHU we put our electrical and cable cords through a hole in the wall so an officer could plug them in on the other side, and we had no light switches – all the lights went on at 6 AM and were shut off at 9 PM. When we are locked in a single man shower a razor is handed to us, which we have to rush to use and turn in before we exit the shower. Boxes and plastic bags are not allowed.
On my first morning my door was opened and my name was called over a loud speaker to go out to medication pickup. I walked with a group of guys and we all walked a good distance to the clinic and back to pick up our medication. In the SHU a nurse came to the door and gave everything to you. The walk was beautiful but everything felt surreal, as though I was in a fog. The reality of it all still has not set in. My neighbor was also in the SHU with me, he’s a Mexican from southern California, and he and his celly had an extra hot pot which they let me use. As soon as I got in my cell I filled it with water and made my first cup of hot coffee in 9 years and 7 months. In the SHU we’re not allowed to have anything hot in fear that we would throw it at an officer. Man it was beautiful enjoying my first cup of Joe. At lunch I hooked up my first hot top ramen soup and had a hot lunch. On Saturday we had chicken – first piece I’ve had with a bone in 10 years. In the SHU they serve small nugget-style pieces because they’re afraid we’ll make a knife. On Sunday I had my first real egg. After breakfast they called for Church – I’m not cleared yet to go to services but as soon as I am I’ll be attending. In the SHU they have no form of religious services whatsoever – looking forward to getting my God on!
In the mornings we have four hours of yard time and and hour and a half in the dayroom in the evening. I’m not eligible yet for this either but should be in 10 days. However, I don’t know if that will happen before they send a bus for me to go to whatever prison I’ve been promoted to.
I’m still getting used to having my door opened and me freely exiting through it. I quickly learned to be ready and on point at my door for medication pickups twice a day because I don’t want to get caught off guard with my door open and me not ready. All of it is a lot to get used to but I’m working my way through as reality continues to sink in. I will continue to keep you all updated – keep me in your prayers as you will always be in mine.
Aaron Ray Scott, H30536
CSP Corcoran 3A-03-230
Corcoran, CA 93212
Summary of Ashker v. Governor of California
When Ashker v. Governor was first filed as a class action in 2012, thousands of prisoners across the state of California languished in prolonged solitary confinement in Security Housing Units (SHU). At Pelican Bay State Prison alone, more than 500 prisoners had been held in the SHU for over 10 years, and 78 prisoners had been there for more than 20 years. They were warehoused in cramped, windowless concrete cells for almost 24 hours a day with no phone calls, infrequent visits through plexiglass preventing physical contact, meager rehabilitative opportunities, and no opportunity for normal social interaction with other prisoners. Their indefinite and prolonged confinement in this torturous isolation was based not on any actual misconduct but on vague and tenuous allegations of affiliation with a gang. Prisoners were routinely placed in prolonged solitary confinement for simply appearing on a list of gang members found in another prisoner’s cell, or possessing allegedly gangrelated artwork and tattoos.
In 2015, the plaintiffs agreed to a far-reaching settlement that fundamentally alters all aspects of this cruel and unconstitutional regime. The agreement will dramatically reduce the current solitary confinement population and should have a lasting impact on the population going forward; end the practice of isolating prisoners who have not violated prison rules; cap the length of time a prisoner can spend in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay; and provide a restrictive but not isolating alternative for the minority of prisoners who continue to violate prison rules on behalf of a gang.
1. The settlement transforms California’s use of solitary confinement from a status-based system to a behavior-based system.
Under California’s old regime, prisoners identified as gang affiliates were sent to SHU for an indefinite term based merely on their gang affiliation, regardless of whether they had ever violated a prison rule. The settlement transforms California’s use of solitary confinement from a status-based system to a behavior-based system: from now on, California will only send gang-validated prisoners to SHU if they are found guilty, at a hearing, of a serious “SHU-eligible” rule violation. These violations are now limited to the same violations that send non-gang-validated prisoners to the SHU: murder, violence against persons, threats to kill or assault, weapons possession, distribution of controlled substances, escape, disturbance, riot or strike, harassment, gang activity that leads to a serious rule violation, serious theft or destruction of property, extortion or bribery, certain sexual misconduct, and related attempts or conspiracy.
2. Validated gang affiliates who are found guilty of a SHU-eligible offense will enter a quicker two-year SHU step-down program for return to general population after serving their determinate SHU term.
Prisoners validated as gang affiliates in California used to face indefinite SHU confinement, with a review for possible release to general population only once every six years. Even when such reviews occurred, a single piece of evidence of alleged continued gang affiliation led to another six years of solitary confinement. That evidence was often as problematic as the original evidence used to send them to SHU – for example, a book, a poem, or a tattoo that was deemed to be gang-related. As a result, California held more people in solitary confinement, for longer periods of time, than any other state in the country.
Under the settlement, California will no longer impose indeterminate SHU sentences. Instead, after serving a determinate sentence for a SHU-eligible offense, validated gang affiliates whose offense was proven to be related to gang activities will be transferred to a two-year, four-step program. Prisoners will definitely be released to a general population prison setting after two years unless they commit another SHU-eligible offense while in the step-down program. While conditions at the steps remain harsh, prisoners will be allowed some telephone calls and rehabilitative programming at each step.
This new step-down program improves upon interim reforms unilaterally promulgated by the state after the Ashker complaint was filed. It cuts in half the time in the program from four to two years; provides increased phone calls, other privileges, and out-of-cell programming in the steps; and eliminates prisoners being kept in the SHU for either minor infractions or failure to engage in required behavioral programming.
Under this settlement, those prisoners who have refused to participate in step-down programming, or who have been found guilty of numerous acts of misconduct that don’t rise to the level of a SHU-eligible offense, will be transferred to a new unit established as an alternative to solitary: a Restricted Custody General Population Unit (RCGP). In this unit, described below, they will have the opportunity to complete the step-down program in a high-security but non-solitary unit, and earn release into general population.
3. California will review all current gang-validated SHU prisoners within one year to determine whether they should be released from solitary under the settlement terms. It is estimated by CDCR that the vast majority of such prisoners will be released to general population. In addition, virtually all of those prisoners who have spent more than 10 years in solitary will be immediately released to a general-population setting, even if they have committed recent serious misconduct.
The settlement requires speedy review of all prisoners currently held in a California SHU based on gang affiliation. With very limited exceptions, described below, those who have not been found guilty of a SHUeligible offense within the last two years will be immediately released to a general-population unit. Those with a recent SHU-eligible offense will be placed at the appropriate step of the step-down program, based on the date of the rule violation. It is currently estimated that only a small minority of those currently held in a SHU based on gang affiliation have a recent SHU-eligible offense, so that the overwhelming majority of prisoners should be released into general population under this settlement.
In addition, California has implicitly recognized the harm to prisoners from very prolonged solitary confinement by agreeing that those prisoners who have already spent 10 or more continuous years in the SHU will generally be immediately released from the SHU and placed in the RCGP to complete the step-down program – even if they have been found guilty of, or are still serving a sentence for, a recent gang-related SHU offense. Nor will anyone be involuntarily held in the Pelican Bay SHU for longer than five years for any reason. Even those prisoners who have been incarcerated in the SHU for more than 10 years and are currently serving a determinate SHU sentence for serious misconduct will be released to the RCGP to complete their SHU sentence and the step-down program unless California can show by a preponderance of the evidence that to do so would pose an unreasonable security risk.
4. California will create a new Restricted Custody General Population Unit (RCGP) as a secure alternative to solitary confinement.
The RCGP is a general-population unit designed to facilitate positive and meaningful social interactions for prisoners about whom California has serious security concerns, such that they would otherwise be placed in solitary confinement. As such, it may serve as a model for jurisdictions seeking to do away with solitary confinement altogether, while still ensuring prison security.
As part of a general-population unit, RCGP prisoners will be allowed to move around the unit without restraints, will be afforded as much out-of-cell time as other general-population prisoners, and will be able to receive contact visits. As a very high-security, restrictive-custody unit, its group activities will generally be in small groups, instead of large yards. For example, RCGP prisoners will have access to educational courses, a small-group recreation yard, small-group leisure activities and programming, some job opportunities and phone calls. Programming will be designed to provide increased opportunities for positive social interaction with both other prisoners and staff.
Three categories of prisoners will be sent to the RCGP: first, those who repeatedly violate prison rules while in the step-down program or refuse to take part in step-down programming; second, those who have spent over 10 continuous years in some form of solitary confinement and have recently committed a SHU-eligible offense; and third, prisoners against whom there is a substantial threat to their personal safety that limits their ability to be released into other general-population units.
5. Very prolonged solitary confinement will be severely limited and those confined provided significantly more out-of-cell time.
Because this settlement ends the prior practice of indeterminate SHU sentences for validated prisoners, generally prisoners will not be kept in the SHU for more than 10 continuous years, with a limited exception, called Administrative SHU. The settlement limits and ameliorates such prolonged solitary confinement by (a) setting up strict criteria for its use, (b) requiring increased out-of-cell time, and (c) providing for strong judicial review of its use. For example, where the Departmental Review Board has overwhelming evidence that a prisoner who has already served a SHU term presents an immediate threat such that he cannot be placed in general population, he can be kept in the SHU. Even in such instances, CDCR shall provide enhanced out-of-cell recreation and programming of a combined total of 20 hours per week, double the out-of-cell time of other SHU prisoners. During the agreement, CDCR’s decision is subject to review by Magistrate Judge Vadas, who is monitoring implementation of the settlement with plaintiffs’ counsel. The agreement states that CDCR’s expectation is that only a small number of prisoners will be retained in Administrative SHU. The Administrative SHU prisoners will have 180-day reviews in which staff will be required to identify efforts to move the prisoner to a less restrictive environment with the assumption being that these prisoners would be candidates to be moved to the RCGP. In addition, no prisoner may be held involuntarily at Pelican Bay SHU for more than 5 years.
6. Prisoner representatives will work with plaintiffs’ counsel and the magistrate judge to monitor implementation of the settlement.
The struggle to reform California’s use of solitary confinement has always been a prisoner-led movement. Indeed, the settlement was negotiated with the active participation of the prisoner representatives, who met as a group several times with counsel via conference phone calls, and who ultimately decided as a group to ratify the agreement. Under this settlement, prisoner representatives will retain their hard-won seat at the table to regularly meet with California prison officials to review the progress of the settlement, discuss programming and step-down program improvements, and monitor prison conditions. Plaintiffs’ counsel will receive regular documentation of all administrative-SHU and step-down placements, progress, and SHU-eligible rule violations. Along with Magistrate Judge Vadas, plaintiffs’ counsel will monitor all aspects of the settlement implementation. Magistrate Judge Vadas will be empowered to review and remedy any individual or systemic violations of the agreement. In addition, the settlement continues the ability of the prisoner representatives from around the state to confer as a group in a conference call with counsel to discuss the implementation and monitoring of the agreement.
The settlement also requires re-training of California correctional staff, and prohibits any retaliation for prisoners’ past and future involvement in the litigation or settlement monitoring.
The monitoring process under the settlement will be in effect for 24 months, with the opportunity to seek additional 12-month extensions upon a showing of continuing constitutional violations.
A video the New York Times published, accompanying the article Solitary Confinement: Punished for Life (August 3rd, 2015, by Erica Goode) shows Todd Ashker, George Franco, Gabriel Reyes and Paul Redd talking on camera about solitary confinement, being locked down without any hope, with no ending in sight:
This comes from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and it is about the Case Ashker v. Brown, in which the New York Times used research, including the 10 expert reports and a video with 4 of the class action representatives (Todd Ashker, George Franco, Gabriel Reyes and Paul Redd).
Today’s New York Times science section features a front-page piece about the research that CCR commissioned and compiled for our ground-breaking challenge to long-term solitary confinement. “Solitary Confinement: Punished for Life” introduces to the public the 10 expert reports we submitted to the court in Ashker v. Brown, the class-action lawsuit on behalf of prisoners in solitary in California’s Pelican Bay prison. Together, this research presents an unprecedented 360-degree look at the science behind how and why solitary confinement causes irreversible physical and mental harm.
According to the expert reports, prisoners subjected to prolonged solitary experience a form of “social death” that is not cured upon release, but rather lingers as a “post-SHU syndrome” characterized by social withdrawal, isolation, and anxiety. One researcher said it was “shocking, frankly” that some prisoners endure decades of isolation. The Science Times piece is accompanied by a moving video of our clients.
The reports also provide evidence that the profound impact of solitary is not just psychological; SHU prisoners experience unusually heightened levels of hypertension, placing them at risk for serious health consequences. The international and domestic experts agree that such prolonged isolation is not only unnecessary for prison security, but actually counter-productive, as well as a violation of international law.
The expert reports – by leading scholars in psychology, neuroscience, medicine, prison classification, prison security, international law, and international corrections – are part of the discovery phase of our case. They are critical to our argument that prolonged solitary confinement violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
But the reports do more than support our case. They help the growing national movement to end solitary. By bringing public scrutiny to the severe physical and psychological harm our clients and so many others are suffering as a result of their isolation, we hope to continue turning the tide against this form of torture until it is eradicated from the U.S. once and for all.